Prague is an art lesson, with endless galleries opening my eyes to new artists. One highly-visible artist in Prague is Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist Alphonse Maria Mucha (1860 – 1939). Mucha’s popular style, postcards, and commercial illustrations are well known.
Mucha Museum Prague
There’s a Mucha Museum in Prague Old Town on Panská Street. His extraordinary masterpiece, The Slav Epic, has been on display at the Veletržní Palace since 2012. The Slav Epic is a massive, incredible accomplishment. I was touched by its dramatic beauty and impeccable detail!
It took Mucha years to create the Slav Epic, a series of twenty large paintings depicting and celebrating the history of the Czech and Slavic people. Between 1911 and 1926, he worked tirelessly on the enormous canvases from a spacious studio in Zbiroh Castle near Prague. Mucha bestowed the paintings to the city of Prague in 1928. From 1963 until 2012, The Slav Epic was on display in the chateau in Moravský Krumlov in South Moravia where Alphonse Maria Mucha was born.
Mucha Background and History
In Moravia, Mucha was a decorative painter creating theatrical scenery. He later moved to Vienna, where he took employment with a Viennese theatrical design company. After a fire destroyed his employer’s business in Vienna, he returned to Moravia as a freelance painter.
Count Karl Khuen of Mikulov hired Mucha to paint murals in his Hrušovany Emmahof Castle. The Count was so impressed with the outcome, he sponsored Mucha’s training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.
Mucha moved to Paris in 1887 continuing his formal art studies. While studying, he produced magazine and advertising illustrations.
“About Christmas 1894, Mucha visited a print shop and discovered the need for an advertising poster for a play featuring Sarah Bernhardt – the most famous actress in Paris. He created a lithographed poster for the play.”
“With the Slav Epic, Mucha wished to unite all the Slavs through their common history and mutual reverence for peace and learning and eventually inspire them to work for humanity using their experience and virtue.” Mucha Foundation
“In January 1895, his poster for Gismonda by French dramatist Victorien Sardou attracted much attention in Paris. Bernhardt was so satisfied with the success of the poster, that she began a six-year contract with Mucha.”
Mucha’s works often featured beautiful young women in flowing floral dresses surrounded by halos. His pale pastel colors and elegant style received international exposure during the Exposition Universelle of 1900.
Bosnia and Austria
In addition to his posters, Mucha decorated the Bosnia-Herzegovina Pavilion and collaborated with decorating the Austrian Pavilion. His work was often imitated. He tried to disassociate himself from the Art Nouveau style insisting that “rather than maintaining any fashionable stylistic form, his paintings were entirely a product of himself and Czech art”.
Mucha believed that art existed to communicate a spiritual message. Frustrated by the fame associated with his commercial work, he concentrated on the projects of other artists.
Mucha’s work continues to experience periodic revivals of interest for illustrators and artists. His work saw a strong revival during the 1960s. It’s evident in the psychedelic posters and record album covers of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat – British artists Michael English, Nigel Waymouth, and Bob Masse.
Mucha Manga Mystery exhibition is appearing in Zürich and moves to the Bröhan Museum in Berlin from December 5, 2013 to March 2, 2014. The exhibition explores how Mucha’s “distinct visual language” influenced generations of graphic designers and examines the work of manga artists from Japan with “connections to Mucha’s stylistic vocabulary”.